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A Cosmic Vision

TEILHARD de CHARDIN: A Book of Hours

Kathleen Deignan & Libby Osgood


The Cosmic Vision of Teilhard de Chardin

John F. Haught

A Review
By Frank A. Mills

September 26, 2023
Book Covers

TEILHARD DE CHARDIN: A Book of Hours, Kathleen Deignan, CND, Libby Osgood, CND, Editors. Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 2023. 269 Pages, including introductions, plus Reference Notes. ISBN: 978-1-62698-509-4

The Cosmic Vision of Teilhard de Chardin, John F. Haught. Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 2021. 267 Pages, including introduction, endnotes, and index. ISBN: 978-1-62698-449-3

I received both of the books at the same time from Orbis Books, and decided to follow the breviary of the Book of Hours as I worked my way through The Cosmic Vision of Teilhard de Chardin. As I did so, I felt a synergy as I contemplated the spiritual vision of Teilhard and explored his thinking from the perspective of John F. Haught. I’ve read Teilhard often, I have never thought of his work as a “Book of Hours,” that is as a breviary, until I read TEILHARD DE CHARDIN: A Book of Hours.

That is ironic in a way, because that really is what Teilhard is all about—the flow of the divine throughout the cosmos. The flow of the divine as part and parcel of the cosmos, a literal breviary—the hours of the universe.

Not having explored Teilhard’s thinking as a breviary, I’ve missed so much. This is not to dismiss Haught’s work in any way. While A Book of Hours opened my thinking to the cosmic flow of Teilhard’s thinking, The Cosmic Vision of Teilhard de Chardin, provided me with an understanding of his philosophical thinking.

The two are the perfect combination. I recommend that you get both books and work them as I did.

Teilhard’s vision for Christianity is a vision that draws science and faith together through a cosmic hope in the future. Teilhard’s cosmic vision is rooted in the LOGOS, and in a belief that it is the Logos that both drives, and is, the universe in a spiritually cosmic sense.

He suggests that spirituality is coextensive with the universe. An essential spiritual dimension, according to Teilhard. It is his premise that unless there is an interior aspect to matter, consciousness could not emerge in the human. For Teilhard, the human was not an add-on to the evolutionary process. Rather, the human is an emergent expression of that which went on before, that is, prior to evolution.

Teilhard’s cosmic vision is about humanities’ participation in the ever-evolving cosmos. If we choose to do so, we can – he says, must – positively embrace evolutionary change in our ever-evolving, unfinished universe. That embrace, offers the same for us as it did for Teilhard. It offers a dynamic, exciting, ever-unfolding spirituality.

Teilhard, as he states often in his writings, wants to draw us into this adventure of creating and being part of a cosmic vision of the universe. To “share,” as he puts it, “in the earth’s task.”

In The Cosmic Vision of Teilhard de Chardin, John F. Haught Teilhard’s thinking, which is simultaneously spiritual and scientific, Haught draws us into Teilhard’s cosmic vision. What I love about The Cosmic Vision of Teilhard de Chardin is that it is brings Teilhard’s vision alive in a way that fits today. Of particular interest to me were Haught’s application of Teilhard to The Big History Project (BH) in his chapter on religion (chap.11), and an entire chapter (13) devoted to transhumanism. We will come back to these.

Haught in The Cosmic Vision of Teilhard de Chardin brings Teilhard’s thinking to life as a vision for today, Teilhard de Chardin: A Book of Hours, turns his thought into a spiritual exercise.

Many it seems to me, grapple with Teilhard’s cosmic vision without ever sensing its meditative quality. For those, it remains philosophical theology.

A Book of Hours draws upon the “found” prayers, reflections and meditations of Teilhard. Rather than explaining Teilhard (although it does “introduce” his thinking) A Book of Hours seeks to invite us into a new contemplative mind and heart, where with, we participate in the divine work of cosmogenesis (p. xxx).”

Utilizing the form of a breviary, meditations are provided for the four liturgical hours of the day (dawn, day, dusk, dark) in an octameral format, with an eighth day being added to allow Teilhard’s creation days “to unfold (p. xxxiii).” In order the days of the week, we experience the Unfolding Cosmos, the Evolving Christ, the Living Earth, Becoming Human, Building the World, Creative Suffering, Transforming Spirit, and on the eighth day, “Tomorrow,” Toward Omega.

The editors, Kathleen Deignan, CND and Libby Osgood, CND, draw their inspiration for an approach that is other-than about Teilhard from Teilhard’s own words:

I want these pages to be instinct with my love of matter and life and to reconcile it if possible with the unique adoration of and only absolute and definitive godhead (Writings in Time of War, 14)

Teilhard’s spiritual masterpiece, The Divine Milieu, dedicated to “those who love the world,” sought to address a milieu shaken by new scientific discovering, war, and political discord in a world were religion failed to address the spiritual needs of people. Not unlike out present-day world.

Deignan and Osgood’s prayer is that the breviary will “ignite one’s sense of the universe as the revolutionary and evolving body of divinity (p. xxxix).”

Both A Book of Hours and The Cosmic Vision of Teilhard de Chardin echo Teilhard’s call to enter into, and become part of, the universe’s evolutionary transformation. Like Christ, we are called to empty ourselves in imitation of self-emptying divine love, to take upon ourselves, “the reckless vow of all love,” in which we lose ourself, yet loving ever-more intimately and expansively (Divine Milieu, 112).

In The Cosmic Vision of Teilhard de Chardin, Haught follows, in a more expansive way, the same themes as does A Book of Hours. We begin with the unfolding cosmos move through future, hope, action, spirituality, descent (Incarnation and human destiny), life, suffering, thought, religion (where we encounter the Big History Project), and then lastly back to the future and our responsibility for the unfolding of the future with a chapter on transhumanism.

The Big History Project (BH)1 is an approach to history that seeks to integrates multiple disciplines into a single thread. It attempts to tell the continuous story of everything that had happened thus far, while imagining our future. As it tells the story, it seeks to embed the more recent story of human existence into the much older and longer story of the cosmic journey. In Haught’s discussion of BH in the chapter on religion (chap. 11), he notes that BH as a whole has failed to link religious subjectivity to the Big Story. Haught reminds us that long before BH arrived, Teilhard was making the connection (The Human Phenomena).

In The Future of Man, Teilhard noted that “not all directions are good for our advance.” It is through this lens that Haught applies Teilhard to Transhumanism2 (chap. 12). After a thorough look at Transhumanism, Haught writes,

Theologically, creativity means participation in the divine task of bringing something new into existence. It means not only conservation, which is absolutely essential, but also a realization that the world remains open to new creation up-ahead. It is the function of a biblically based transhumanist praxis not only to conserve life systems on our planet but also to take measures that will foster opportunities for the emergence of unprecedented forms of life and the enhancement of the vitality, subjectivity, diversity, relationality, and creativity in the up-ahead. As long as transhumanist projects contribute to this enhancement, they would seem to be justifiable. This is the essence of a Teilhardian evaluation of transhumanism (p.204-5).

In chapter (13) Haught looks at Teilhard as a scientist and as a Christian thinker, and in both, challenges Teilhard’s critics. Those who are critical of Teilhard’s scientific thinking, according to Haught, have mistaken his Christianity as a set of strictly scientific propositions. Which as Haught points out, they’re not.

Since Teilhard started expressing his thoughts there have been those who challenge his Christian orthodoxy. Although some will never be satisfied, I think Haught does an admirable job of demonstrating Teilhard’s orthodoxy.

Both books are strong reminders that Teilhard de Chardin offers Christianity a “new,” viable way forward, one that embraces all the cosmos has to offer.



Notes:

1. The Big History Project was initiated by Bill Gates and David Christian in 2011. It is now known as the OER Project, “open educational resources,” a non-profit that provides educational resources for the teaching the “Big History” of the cosmos.

2. Transhumanism is both a philosophical and scientific movement that advocates the use of current and emerging technologies to both improve the human condition and augment human capabilities. Christian transhumanism adds faith as an additional element. There are those who say that as science is materialistic and Christianity is spiritual, the two cannot go together. I think Teilhard would have disagreed with that premise.



Kathleen Noone Deignan, CND, PhD, a sister of the Congregation of Notre Dame, is a teaching theologian and founding director of the Deignan Institute for Earth Spirit at Iona College, NY. She is the founding convener of the Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue and a GreenFaith Fellow. Her books include, Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours. / Sister Deignan is a member of the board of the American Teilhard Association.

Libby (Elizabeth) Osgood, CND, Peng, a sister of the Congregation of Notre Dame de Montreal. She is an aerospace engineer who teaches sustainable design engineering at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. Her research is on the intersection of faith and science, engineering education, and design pedagogy.

John F. Haught, PhD, is the Distinguished Research Professor at Georgetown University, Washington, DC. His interest lies in issues pertaining to science, cosmology, evolution, ecology and religion. He has written several books, including Resting on the Future: Catholic Theology for an Unfinished Universe and The New Cosmic Story. © Frank A. Mills, 1997-2024

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